Hyperpat\’s HyperDay

SF, science, and daily living

Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Commercials, Commercials

Posted by hyperpat on December 22, 2006

It’s almost Christmas time again. A season that has now become a celebration of commercialism, with darn little reference to its supposed roots. In some ways, perhaps this is not a bad thing, given the track record of just about every major organized religion. Unfortunately, every religion requires its adherents to trust in faith, to accept without any provable physical evidence a concept of a supreme being. And of course, once you allow such a thing, logic disappears, replaced by emotion. All too often, that emotion is distrust and hate for those who are not adherents to your own particular concept of god, which leads, again and again, to strife and wars.

Religion may not be the only cause of wars, but it’s certainly a major player.

Still, there are times when I wish that this season would be more like it was when I was kid, when church, carols, apple cider, and small, heartfelt gifts were more the rule, and I was watching It’s a Wonderful Life for the first time. The sentiments that Christmas is supposed to have are admirable ones,  and it seems they’ve been shoved under the pile of sell, sell, sell.

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Posted in Daily Happenings, General, religion | 2 Comments »

An Unnecessary Plug for Final Fantasy

Posted by hyperpat on November 11, 2006

Just ordered Final Fantasy XII for the Playstation 2. Now I’m not much of a video game player (unlike my sons), but I do make an exception for this series. The quality of this series has been very consistent, with cutting edge graphics, excellent story lines, decent battle mechanics, and typically a slew of interesting side-games within the main line, all without being raunchy, super-violent, or morally questionable. For my money, the best of the RPGs that are out there. I was also happy that they developed this one for the PS2, rather than the PS3 – I don’t need to spend another $500 for yet another game machine, at least not yet. Maybe next year. In the meantime I’m looking forward to another 50-60 hours of engrossing playing time with this one.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, Science fiction and fantasy | Leave a Comment »

Time Binding

Posted by hyperpat on November 1, 2006

One of the distinguishing characteristics of homo sapiens is their supposed ability to bind time, to look towards the future and modify current actions in order to achieve something better.  Unfortunately,  it seems as if the great majority of members of this species don’t make very good use of this ability.

Talk to your average teenager or twenty-something. Ask them if they’ve thought about their retirement, or have done anything to fund it. Probably more than 90% will answer this in the negative.  Ask about long-term goals for career and family. That answer will mirror the first. Ask about what actions they have taken to assure a clean, robust Earth for their children. Here you might actually get a few positive responses – but then ask them about nuclear, wind, solar, and water power and what percentage of the world’s needs can be met by these methods, and the answers will all too often indicate that they haven’t done any real research in this area and have been unwilling to do the math to really evaluate these items.

For that matter, talk to your Congressman. If his time horizon includes things beyond his next election date, I’d be surprised – note the almost total inaction on Social Security, energy policy, universal health care, etc. Although they seem to talk about these items a lot, when it comes to actually implementing policies and laws in these areas, it’s pretty much a blank sheet of paper, as regardless of how he votes, your Congressman is afraid of alienating someone, and hence not getting re-elected.

Corporations are no better – the next quarterly financials seem to be the be-all and end-all driving decisions about the company’s future direction.

Asking people to look not just to next year or even a decade out, but hundreds or thousands of years out seems to be an impossible proposition. About the only people who seem to do this are some scientists and science-fiction fans, who make up a miniscule percentage of the population.  And without this long-term perspective, I can guarantee that a lot decisions made now will be flawed, with some possibly very dire consequences for everyone on the planet.

Seems to me that people’s noses need to be rubbed into the catastrophic possibilities that are coming towards us like a train wreck.  Maybe science fiction works that illustrate these problems should be required reading in school. Maybe an organization should be formed to advertise this (hmm…there probably are already quite a few of these, all crying in the wilderness, and nobody is listening). Maybe it will take a real catastrophe that affects everyone before people will wake up and do a little planning.

Posted in General, Politics, science fiction | 2 Comments »

Kids and Porn

Posted by hyperpat on September 22, 2006

You’ve got kids and you’ve got a computer hooked to the internet. Now what? Afraid that your kids will start lurking around all those sites that portray sex very explicitly? Afraid that they might see something there that they might decide to go out and emulate in the real world? Most parents, I think, have some such fears, and many, many groups and organizations are continuously putting out warnings to parents that their kid’s internet use needs to be monitored for just such reasons. But in the real world, what can parents do about this, and what should they do?

Option one is the obvious: get rid of pornography on the net. While this is seemingly obvious, trying to really do so runs into a hornet’s nest of not just problems in trying to define what pornography is, why it should be restricted, what harm it causes, and how to physically stop it when much of it is produced outside the jurisdiction of American courts, but also the legal rampart of free speech and not implementing any remedy that also restricts the right to publish and access non-pornographic material. Congress has tried a couple of times to implement restrictions in this area, and has stumbled over this particular point every time. Sex is a very powerful human drive, and as long as the demand for this material exists, it will be produced and distributed. The only real question is is if and how access to such material can be restricted without causing an essential breach in the right of free speech, or worse, a government that snoops on everything posted on the net.

Option two: Teach your kids about sex. Seems like most parents either don’t want to do this or don’t know how. Teach them not just what sex is, but what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior in this area. And by inappropriate I mean violence, sadism, rape, and other such power trips masquerading as sex. Part of this education should be that pornography exists, and that in and of itself it’s essentially harmless, that the human body and its sexual functions are not evil, but beautiful and normal. The schools will not do this. You’re lucky if they manage to cover the mechanics of it, and perhaps some of the risks such as STDs associated with having sex. Be aware that until kids reach a certain age, even if they should happen to run across some sexually explicit material while roaming the net, it just won’t interest them. Once they do reach that age, though (and it’s a lot younger than most parents realize), knowing what it is, why it is, and what is good and bad about sexual relations will allow these kids to process such material appropriately. Having your kids made aware of sex will also allow them to be a bit more cautious in chat rooms and such, where there is a very real danger of sexual predators hanging out – and this is a danger parents should be worried about, not whether their little Johnny or Jane so happened to catch sight of a video of two people having sex.

Posted in General, Politics | Leave a Comment »

The Downside of Living Longer

Posted by hyperpat on September 14, 2006

As part of the process of getting my new mortgage approved, I had to go through all of our various retirement type accounts, which for us amounts to four different 401K’s, three different pension plans, savings bonds and certificates of deposit. When I totaled everything up, the sum looked fairly impressive. But when I look at it another way, it’s not so much, less than two years worth of our current combined salary. Will it be enough to really make our retirement financially worry-free?

Now there’s still some time that we have before retirement, and I expect that in that time our total savings will almost triple from current levels if we can continue to save as we have been. And if (that’s a big if) Social Security is still around and paying what they say they will, it looks like there will be enough, barring any major illnesses or Congress deciding to dismantle the SS program. But that’s the worry – I can’t predict the future, but I can point to high probabilities.

The first of these is that the likelihood of major medical problems for us is quite high. My wife is a Type II diabetic, which at the moment has not caused her any major problems, but this ailment is known for catching up to you in many nasty ways, including glaucoma, kidney problems, high blood pressure, circulation problems, and neurological disorders. Treatment for these ‘side effects’ can be extensive and expensive. I have Crohn’s disease and COPD, both long term, essentially incurable problems. Either of these, if they get out of control, would make it impossible for me to work. And Medicare (Parts A, B, C, D, and by then probably part Z) will not cover all of the medical costs I can see coming.

The second high probability is that Congress will do something with Social Security. The program as it stands is financially unsound. Raising SS taxes even more to fund projected shortfalls doesn’t look like it’s in the cards, which leaves some form of benefit reduction as the most likely path for reform.

So I fiddle with the numbers, and look to see if we can set even a bit more aside each month. But I’m afraid I’ll have to live with this nagging worry about retirement. Still, we are far better off than many people, who have little or no savings. Which is still another worry. If there are too many people who don’t have enough to live comfortably at retirement time, who have to be supported by additional aid from the government in the form of housing and food subsidies, this will leave even less wiggle-room in the government budget for Social Security and Medicare. It’s something of a nasty spiral, and it at least partially springs from something that everyone wants, the ability to live longer thanks to the improvements in medical care in the last century.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, Politics | 2 Comments »

Being Poor Is Not a Crime, But We Treat It Like One

Posted by hyperpat on September 6, 2006

John Scalzi, the author who just won the Campbell Award and who had one of his novels on the short list for the Hugo, wrote an essay on being poor a year ago, in the aftermath of Katrina. That piece, and some 700 comments, are posted on his Whatever blog here. I highly recommend that if you haven’t read this piece yet, you do so now. And read the comments – this might take you awhile, but I can almost guarantee that when you finish you will have:

Some very moist eyes

A much better understanding of what being poor in America is like

An urge to do something about the conditions described

Have I ever been poor? No. There have been times when I had to literally count pennies, there were days when I had zero dollars and rent coming due, but I’ve never had to go hungry, never had to make a choice between putting food on the table or paying the power bill, never had to wear Goodwill clothing, never had to use a medical clinic instead of seeing my doctor. Oh, I had a few times when I had to collect unemployment, and one four month stretch when there simply were no jobs to be had, and during that period I had to dedicate all the money I had to just rent and food, but these are picayune things compared to the situations described in that set of blog comments.

One thing that comes through those comments loud and clear is the sense of embarrassment that so many of these people feel. Embarrassed that they are in that situation, when in most cases it was entirely beyond their control. This, perhaps, is what we need to try and fix. Those of us who are better off can always make donations, can go down to the community help center and provide some labor to help get things to people who desperately need them, can ‘adopt’ a family in need and see that they at least have the basics. But how do we get rid of that sense that everyone looks down on them simply because they are poor? The current mess of food stamps is guaranteed to cause embarrassment in the check out line, with all the government red tape that causes considerable extra time to process and all of its restrictions on just what can be bought with those stamps, while everyone else waiting in line scrutinizes the person and purchases, sure that here is another example of someone ‘working the system’ and taking their tax dollars, when if they would just go out and get a job —

Sometimes they can’t get a job. Sometimes they are working two jobs and it still doesn’t pay enough to properly feed, clothe, and house their family.

Step one is to quit looking down your nose at people in such situations. Sure, there are some who are gaming the system, but most are there through no choice of their own. And you could be there yourself – all would take is one little downsizing, and after a few months of looking for a job while what savings you have disappear, and not finding anything that pays even close to what you used to make, taking anything to bring in a few dollars, and finding that’s not enough, and that this downward spiral has no end.

Step two is to make it possible for those receiving assistance to do so without having to let the whole world know they are. Get them a special debit card, where their purchases get charged against their assistance account, and get rid of the restrictions on what types of things they can purchase with that account. Use that same type of card to allow them to make clothes purchases at discounted prices. Make it possible for their children in school to get their lunches just like everyone else – why does everyone have to know that Johnny is getting free lunches because he’s so poor?

Step three is to provide basic health and dental care for everyone. If you’re sick, you can’t work, and currently the price of medical care for anyone who doesn’t have insurance is prohibitive. This may sound like an advocation of socialism, and to some degree it is. But in the end, having a healthy population benefits everyone, and being able to go see the doctor about a problem before it turns into a major catastrophe would actually end up saving everyone money. How this is set up needs very careful thought, such that we don’t just create another huge government bureaucracy that fritters away your taxes in administrative costs while adding paperwork barriers to actual medical access or driving doctors into some other field because they aren’t paid properly for their labor, but somehow the richest nation on earth should be able to do this!

Read that essay. Think about it. Help.

Posted in General, Politics | 5 Comments »

A Scene Unhappily Come True

Posted by hyperpat on August 31, 2006

I was going through some of the junk around the house in preparation for the move, and I came across this item:

Astro-Fired

I sense the wired unrest

inside the quiet voice and harsh control

Deliberate decision, constant test

Drone of backward clock tick,

tick,

grinding taut flayed nerve

 

Last tick, ignition spark

A blossom fire, a black of smoke

Hesitant lift,

pause,

sudden lark

Embroiled in sound hard high

High,

catching eye, ear, throat

 

A sigh, a smoke, relax —

My last to watch, control, the flying thought of man.

They say they will not pay the tax;

More important things than dreams

Dreams

of my heart, mind, soul

I wrote this in 1965, when I was a stripling of 16, and long before the Moon landing and the later almost total dismantling of the manned space program. As poetry it may not be great, although neither is it bad; in fact it surprised me, as I’d forgotten this poem, and it’s better than I’d thought I was capable of at that age. But more importantly it highlights the fact that even back then I could sense the ambivalence of the American populace to the need for and the importance of space flight. That hasn’t changed in all the years since then, and I have to rate NASA’s public relations efforts a dismal failure. And that is something to cry about.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General, poetry, Politics, Science & Engineering | Leave a Comment »

Stone Age Music Companies

Posted by hyperpat on August 30, 2006

When are the music producers going to get it? Now I’m not referring to the artists, but to the giant companies that package and market music.

First these companies still set both restrictive and penurious clauses in their contracts with the artists, such that the poor artist rarely sees the full benefit of his work. While at the same time, these companies insist on pricing CDs at exorbitant prices. A $20 CD, containing perhaps 10 or 12 songs, and having perhaps only one or two of those tracks that the consumer is really interested in, provides only $1-2 to the artist, costs maybe $1.50 to manufacture, and is sold to the retailer for $8-9. This means the company gets something like $4.50-6.50 in gross profit, out of which (sometimes) some portion goes to promotion of the CD. Something seems out of balance here. And the artist must kowtow to the company demands for promotional tours, publicity events, etc, and can’t just hop over to a competing label.

Then we have the head-in-the-sand attitude of the company execs about the internet. It has taken them several years to finally admit that there might be a better way to market and distribute music, and to actively support digital downloading, albeit still with lots of restrictions on copying capabilities, a limited selection of their entire vault of songs (I mean, what if you want to get some of those hits from the 1940s? Darn few available), and pricing that is still too high, although somewhat easier to swallow on an individual track basis.

Maybe sometime they will finally get hip to what people want:

1. No proprietary formats. Apple’s format is OK, but if you want to play iTune songs on something other than an iPod, you’ve got a problem. And along side of this, some people want to able to get their digital tracks in the highest resolution possible, say 320 Kbps, instead of Apple’s 128K default, especially for things like classical music.
2. Ability to make copies to any medium the user wants (CD, DVD, iPod, CreativeMP3, etc, etc.). Limiting the number of copies allowed is probably OK as a partial preventative to rampant piracy, but the number allowed must be large enough to allow for any normal use. But whatever copy protection scheme is used, it must be fully and carefully checked out that it will not cause problems on whatever equipment it is being played on.

3. Pricing that makes sense. Probably about half of the current $1/track, and with a greater portion going to the artist.

4. Get the entire library of songs online, from all artists. If this means cross-licensing between these corporate giants, so be it. But people don’t want to have to sign up to several different services to get all the artists and tracks they want.

5. Cut the garbage lawsuit crap against those who have downloaded songs, even if they have done so illegally. This does nothing but give the music industry a bad image, and there is certainly some question about whether these lawsuits are really valid, anyway. Question: you own a vinyl, reel-to-reel, 8 track, cassette, and CD copy of a particular track, have paid for each of those formats in years gone by (If you think this is something that never happens, I have examples of just this in my own collection). You now download a copy of that track from, say, LimeWire. Is this illegal? Who knows? When the RIAA goes after ‘illegal downloaders’, they don’t even ask if you have a purchased version of the download – to them, that’s not relevant.

And finally, these companies should quit complaining that their declining sales numbers are all due to rampant piracy, and start doing some serious searching for artists and material that people really want to buy.

Posted in General, music | Leave a Comment »

When Herculean Efforts Move Molehills

Posted by hyperpat on August 29, 2006

Ok, the flap has died down a little bit now, but the whole airline security thing has really reached the point where we need to ask ourselves “Is all this really worth it?”. For many years travel by air has been by far the safest way to travel, and for anything more than a 100 miles or so it used to be the fastest, at prices that were at least competitive with other modes of transport. Now, however, we are looking at hour + delays in boarding the plane, a huge amount of money being spent on devices and people to inspect you and your belongings (which may not show up on your ticket price, but will show up on your taxes), and the safety factor being bought by all this effort is what? Will all of this deter a group of real terrorists from figuring out a way to destroy a plane? It might stop the casual lone crazy, but an organized group is much more problematic.

At some point, there needs to be a real risk/benefit analysis done, and people need to start realizing that there is never any guarantee of perfect safety in any endeavor.

Posted in General, Politics | 1 Comment »

Split in Half

Posted by hyperpat on August 29, 2006

Americans are lazy. Everyone says so. And they also work more hours than the average Japanese. Huh?

This dichotomy seems to be caused by several factors. First is the tendency of many Americans, when the work day is done, to become instant couch potatoes when they get home. They rarely read anything, they don’t bother to get involved in their local community, they don’t investigate the latest political issues and candidates, few vote, and many display an abysmal ignorance of what’s happening in the world. The TV has become their god.

But when they get up in the morning, and hidey-ho off to work, at least some of them transform into eager beavers, working steadily throughout the day, and at least sometimes going well beyond the ‘normal’ end of the work day to make sure that project is finished, that all the files are updated, that the ‘to-do’ list has every item scratched out. At least some of this is due to the attitude of the management: if you don’t perform at 110%, you’re likely to be on your way out. And job security is something that seems to be very precious to most Americans. And there is still some of that ‘Yankee work ethic’ hanging out there in the cultural milieu.

Seems to me there needs to be a better balance between the two halves of people’s lives. More fun in the workplace, at a less hectic pace, and more attention paid to what you can and should do at home. Maybe we should have a national week where all the TV broadcasts are turned off, and a mandated 20 hour work week during that same week. I wonder what the effect would be?

Posted in General, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Fun the Old-Fashioned Way

Posted by hyperpat on August 25, 2006

Ok, when was the last time you went out square dancing? For most people, the answer to that is either never, or sometime back in high school. And that’s a shame. Modern square dancing is, first and foremost, fun. But it’s also quite a challenge. There are various levels of competence that have been defined: Basic, Mainstream, Plus, A1, A2, C1, C2, and C3. At each level, there are calls unique to that level, either more complex, or needing to be executed more quickly than at prior levels. The calls have been standardized world wide – if you can dance in the U.S., you can dance anywhere, and not feel left out. It does take concentration and some coordination, and the classes for the various levels run anywhere from a few weeks to several months, but it doesn’t require years of practice to become decent at it. There’s no requirement to move up a level if you don’t want to – if all you want to do is dance at the Basic level, that’s fine. Most square dancers seem to settle at Mainstream level, but there are some areas of the country (such as the Bay Area) where the average level is Plus or higher. I personally dance at the A2 level, but I didn’t graduated to that level till I had been dancing Plus for several years.

It’s a good way to meet people in a safe, non-alcoholic environment (you simply can’t do square dancing and drink). So for parents looking for somewhere to send their teenagers, this is a good item to consider. Even if the kids think that square dancing is not ‘cool’, ‘rad’, or whatever other term they use for that, after they get out there and try it, many will find that they like it. Note that the national square dancing program has almost no relationship to the quickie intro that most schools provide, and if your child has had exposure in school it will be more difficult to get them to try the real thing, but it’s probably worth the effort. Square dance club membership is also cheap, typically $20 or less a month – and what other form of entertainment can you get at that price? Of course, the outfits are a bit expensive (a man’s outfit is typically $50-100, a ladies $100 – 150), but you don’t even have to get those till after you’ve tried it and decided it’s something you really want to do.

So look up a local club in your phone book and go out give it a look-see. Trust me, you’ll like it.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

I Grow Old, I Grow Old…

Posted by hyperpat on August 25, 2006

…I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

At least, that’s what T.S. Eliot would do. But how about the rest of us, faced with not just our own slide into superannuated states, but a good portion of the society around us. This aging of the population has some serious consequences, anywhere from Social Security no longer having enough income to pay projected benefits to having enough young people to fill the job positions vacated by those retiring. Does this problem have any solutions?

A few possibilities:

1. Open up the immigration gates so that the balance between young workers and older retired people can remain at near the current ratio. This has obvious implications that many may not like: people coming here from different cultures won’t necessarily think the way current ‘Americans’ do (remember that in some fashion, almost all ‘Americans’ were immigrants at some point), and their votes may change how this country is run; the influx may need to be so rapid that cultural assimilation may not happen, leading to a form of Balkanization of the populace, we may have to truly become a multi-language country.

2. We could kill off all the excess ‘old’ people. If you think this idea is outrageous, you don’t know your history. In many cultures, once a person had outlived his usefulness, he was frequently cut off from any support, or even voluntarily went off to die. In a way, if we do not adequately fund medical care for the elderly, this is exactly what the effect would be.

3. We could implement a mass campaign to get everyone capable of it to have lots of babies, quickly. Given the total world population, and the strain this population is already putting on the resources of Mother Earth, this doesn’t sound like a good idea.

4. Just have the government print money to keep those Social Security checks coming, and live with resultant inflation.

5. Force people to start saving a good portion of their income now, so that when retirement came, the government would not have to provide so much in benefits.

None of these ‘solutions’ are terribly nice, but I think everyone should be doing some serious thinking about this problem, as it’s not going away anytime soon, and unless someone can come up with better solutions, your old age may be very far from golden.

Posted in General, Politics, Science & Engineering | Leave a Comment »

Where’s the Variety?

Posted by hyperpat on August 21, 2006

Just prior to going to the California State Open Bowling championship detailed in the prior post, my wife and I took a little vacation in Las Vegas. After all the pressure of getting our house ready for sale and trying to purchase a new property, we needed it.

Now Vegas is an odd place. It has only one reason for being there, and that’s gambling. When they started putting up the first major casinos there, everyone thought they were crazy. After all, it’s smack in the middle of the desert, and one of the most desolate areas in the United States. But the casinos have thrived, and with them the town – now one of the fastest growing cities in the U.S. But I wonder how much longer the allure of the place will continue. It used to be that each casino had something that was at least slightly different from all the rest – different slot machines, different specialty card tables, better (or at least different) headliners for the shows, better deals on eats or rooms.

Now, however, it seems the only real difference between any of them are the contracted stars. All the casinos seem to have standardized on what slot machines they have – many of them are cross-linked to produce higher progressive jackpots. If all you want to do is play slots, there’s really no need to go to more than one casino. And they’ve made the slots incredibly complicated: play 20 different lines at 20 coins each line (which means you can be throwing $4 per play on on a penny machine), with five reels, four different kinds of wild symbols, 30 different main symbols, and a payout chart that you really need an Excel spreadsheet to decode. I don’t like these types of machines.

The tables are more of the same: minimum $5 tables whether you play blackjack or baccarat, about the only difference is whether they deal from a shoe with four decks or from the hand with only two (a very few casinos still offer single deck – but anyone who has looked at the odds knows that this makes only a tiny difference). Craps, roulette, all are standardized (unless you know the casino owner and have a couple hundred thousand to throw around).

Room rates and other amenities are very similar from hotel to hotel. The days of the $10 room with free breakfasts are long gone. And the headliners for the shows seem to move from one hotel to another, and ticket prices for seeing them are as high as what you’d find in New York or Los Angeles.

With all this sameness, I begin to wonder if there are enough dedicated gamblers out there to support all these giant casinos. And if the casinos die, the town will too.

Still, we had a good time there (almost broke even, not bad for a four day stay), and accomplished our primary goal: Relaxation.

Posted in Daily Happenings, General | 4 Comments »

Rats and People

Posted by hyperpat on July 26, 2006

There are times when you need to have a little space. Just a little time away from everything that’s happening, and all the people around you. When you need it and don’t get it, the typical result is anger, frustration, and that feeling that the world is ‘closing in’ around you. At its extreme, the net result is ‘going postal’.

But the modern world we live in seems to keep getting busier and busier, with more things to worry about, more items that just must get done now, more things you must learn, and less and less time to just relax and go do what you want to do. This is partly the result of the pace of technological innovation, where new things keep appearing. Remember when there were no such things as cell phones? When you could go off in the woods, and absolutely know that no one would be able to bother you? Not now – you’ve still got that phone in your pocket.

With computers we are constantly hooked into the vast stream of data about what’s happening everywhere, while your TV does its best to make sure that you don’t feel great unless you purchase the latest hot item presented in all those invasive commercials. Out on the road, more and more cars crowd all around you, most of them driven by idiots (or at least it seems that way). The shopping mall seems to be absolutely packed with people, and lines, lines, everywhere.

There was an experiment done sometime back that looked at what rats did when they were given plenty of food and water, but had too many of them in a small space. Very quickly these rats ended up constantly fighting amongst themselves. I don’t think people are any different. More and more people on this planet means less and less space per person, and places people can go to relax and get away from it all fewer and fewer. John Brunner, in his ground-breaking book Stand on Zanzibar (written in 1967), envisioned a future that looks all too close to today’s world. One of the prominent features of that book was his description of ‘muckers’, people who have been pushed over the edge by the crowding and pace of their world, and who take out their frustrations by shooting, stabbing, or otherwise inflicting damage on all around them.

So sit back and relax while you still can. But add another worry about how we can solve this problem.

Posted in General | Leave a Comment »

From Little to Big

Posted by hyperpat on July 25, 2006

My wife is, in PC speak, “vertically challenged”. This causes her some problems in everyday life, with shelves too high to reach, gas pedals too far away, etc. She has ways to cope with these problems, but it highlights an aspect of modern mass market industry that targets only the middle of the demographic. While some things are available for people who fall outside that middle (usually at exorbitant extra cost), other items have no available models for such problems. This would seem to be an area where software, programmable robots, and assembly lines engineered for more flexibility are needed. But probably no one is working on such things as there is no financial incentive for them. One of the downsides of a capitalistic system.

I remember a short story I read many years ago that had a solution to the world overpopulation problem – a secret government program in genetic engineering to make everyone ‘small’, who would require less of just about everything (less fabric in clothes, lower calorie intake requirements, etc.), and would help solve the problems of extremes in the range of size of people. The reality is, however, that people are actually getting larger (both vertically and side-to-side). And the world population continues to climb at an alarming rate. At some point we will reach a condition where there simply are not enough resources, no matter how efficiently we use them, to support everyone. When that day arrives, we’d better have a much better way of handling conflicts, or the solution that we get will be global war, or plagues that would make the Black Death of the Middle Ages look like a picnic. I’m not too optimistic about it, given the current world political picture.

Posted in General, Politics | Leave a Comment »

Our Small World

Posted by hyperpat on July 20, 2006

Humans have been around a distressingly short period on this planet. And there’s no guarantee that we’ll still be around tomorrow. We’re busily involved in modifying our home to suit ourselves, via mining, lumbering, farming, fishing, and polluting, with little understanding of the long-term consequences of our actions. While the arguments rage about global warming, the deforestation of the Amazon, and how long the oil supplies will last, Mother Earth must absorb and deal with all the blows we are dealing her. And how she deals with them may not be very nice to live with.

Which is why we need to do something to establish a second home. We desperately need to figure out how to not just get to space, but how to live there. Whether it be the Moon, Mars, Callisto, or somewhere totally outside the solar system, we need to find a place where man can survive even in the face of ultimate disaster.

Now many people feel that the money being spent on space exploration is a waste of time, money, and human lives. But our solar system has far more resources than what is contained on our little planet, from iron, nickel, and other metals to an unclouded sun that can provide a great source of clean energy. But unless we invest in making space utilization a priority now, it may soon be too late to ever do it, as disaster may strike at any time, and we’ve already used up most of the more easily obtainable materials needed to develop a high-technology culture.

Science fiction works have poked and prodded the collective consciousness into at least recognizing space as the ultimate frontier, but few people are aware of the extraordinary width and depth of the ideas that SF has explored in its short span as a separate literary genre. To my mind, at least, it is one of the best vehicles for getting people excited about the possibilities of the future, of showing just what mankind can do, just what marvels lie waiting for our discovery, and just how people can live and work in societies far different than our current ones.

For all the above, much of what I write about here will be devoted to science fiction and/or scientific discoveries, and just what their impact is (or should be) on our daily living. I maintain a website devoted to the field at HyperPat’s Science Fiction, and I’d really like people to visit it and hopefully come away with a better appreciation of what the field offers.

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